Statistics and the PCA Strategic Plan

The Strategic Plan relies heavily for its justification upon certain numerical trends presumably exposed through statistical analysis. Consequently, there is some discussion in the blogosphere of whether the analysis is accurate. That’s a worthwhile point to consider: is the underlying statistical analysis used to justify this Strategic Plan actually inaccurate and flawed?

But I have a more fundamental concern with all this. While statistical analysis may be interesting, I am deeply troubled by this kind of application of it in the spiritual realm. I think there is a problem with how we are using statistical analysis if the result is that we think we must be doing something right or wrong based on that analysis. The Church does not fit a business or manufacturing model of any sort, and she has no mechanical processes that can be relied upon to provide a specific ‘positive growth’ result when properly deployed. Relying upon this kind of statistical analysis as an indicator of health is, at best, a category error — at worst it implies a crass Finneyism.

I am not suggesting that we ought to ignore the statistics altogether. It is certainly good to have access to such information. But this information is no reliable indicator of the health of a denomination. The call of Christ upon the Church and her ministry is not to watch the numbers, but to be faithful in the means of grace. God does not promise us any kind of a mechanical correspondence between such faithfulness and numerical growth. It is a dangerous error to rely upon outward results, especially numerical results, as an indicator of faithfulness. When we see a change in the numbers we do not need ‘some new plan.’ Whether the numbers go up, down, or stay the same, our duty and calling as a Church does not change. We are always and ever to remain steadfast and immovable in the faith, pouring out the Gospel in all its fulness. Yes, God is pleased to bless His means, and we ought not to expect His blessing apart from His appointed means. But God does not bless His appointed means mechanically. The numbers are no indication one way or the other with regard to obedience.


2010 PCA Strategic Plan

I wish I had time to do a full and running critique of this sad and misguided proposal. The 2010 PCA Strategic Plan has been two years in the making and it shows. There is an abundance of detailed and wrong-headed thinking on display here. The distillation of what the GA will be asked to adopt is found here. I’m tempted to call it unprincipled and pragmatic, but it’s not really unprincipled. It’s simply not guided by principles that can be called Reformed and Biblical in any recognisable way.

Thankfully, several men have been interacting with this radical programme for further reshaping of the PCA. These men have offered some poignant comments and suggestions. Among those are some remarkable things coming from Northwest Georgia Presbytery!

Dr R. Scott Clark has a run-down of these in an entry on his Heidelblog, but the most remarkable, I think, is the ‘17 Points for PCA Renewal’ proposed by the Rev. Dr Jon D. Payne of Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA (about 20 miles west of downtown Atlanta). (By the way, check out that Church’s web site! I did not know that there were other PCA church’s like Brainerd Hills PCA, especially not in the Southeast. I would differ earnestly with them on their uninspired worship song and the musical accompaniment, but it clearly and otherwise holds forth a model of Reformed worship.)

You should check out Dr Payne’s prefatory thoughts, too, on the page where they were originally published, but here for your edification I feel compelled to include Dr Payne’s 17 Points.
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George Smeaton’s Doctrine of the Atonement on Sale at Banner of Truth

Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement

  • Price: $ 21.25 $17.00
  • ISBN#: 9780851516004
  • Binding: Cloth-bound
  • Page Count : 520

Fathers’ Day Special Price, U.S. & CANADA: $17.00 after additional 20% Web Discount, through midnight June 12, 2010 (List Price: $26.00).

From the Desk of C.H. Spurgeon:
The production of such a work as this by Mr. Smeaton is an era in theology; adhering as he does to the old orthodoxy, and proving his positions from our Lord’s words, he deserves the gratitude of all lovers of an efficient atonement by a real substitution. The author is thoroughly acquainted with those who have preceded him in his field of research, and he judiciously follows or differs from them, but his work is full of deep original thought, and pervaded ever with lowliest reverence of the august sacrifice. If, instead of giving their people a dead philosophy, certain preachers would search their Bibles by the aid of this volume, and extol a living Christ, they would have a far fairer prospect when their last account will be required of them.

The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement

  • Price: $ 21.25 $17.00
  • ISBN#: 9780851515991
  • Binding: Cloth-bound
  • Page Count : 568

Fathers’ Day Special Price, U.S. & CANADA: $17.00 after additional 20% Web Discount, through midnight June 12, 2010 (List Price: $26.00).

From the Desk of C.H. Spurgeon:
We have been greatly profited by the masterly expositions of the apostles’ sayings which this book affords …. our ministerial brethren will sit down to it as to a banquet, which will afford food for meditation through many days.

From the Desk of Sinclair B. Ferguson:
George Smeaton’s magnificent studies of the New Testament’s teaching on the work of Christ – Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement and The Apostle’s Doctrine of the Atonement – [are] two books which I am convinced ought to be in the possession of every minister of the gospel, preacher, teacher and student for the ministry.

Professor Smeaton deals with each passage in the New Testament relevant to the work of Christ. One volume is devoted to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels; the second to the rest of the New Testament. The two volumes present an unparalleled exposition to which preachers can turn when expounding any New Testament book.

These books are reliable; but they are also wonderfully readable. Ministers at every age and stage will benefit from them, and be led by them through careful, biblical, spiritual exposition of the cross. They combine biblical exegesis, doctrinal exposition, spiritual meditation, depth without dense style, clarity without technical clutter.


Thoughts on Determining the Doctrine of the Church

The Rev. Lane Keister posted an insightful quotation from Francis Turretin contrasting the opinions and judgements of individuals with the authoritative teaching of the Church as held forth in her public doctrinal standards.

Hence they are accustomed to drawing nothing from public standards to prove their calumnies, but only from the writings of private divines from which they falsely weave consequences.

Concerning the public and received opinion of any church, a judgment cannot and ought not to be formed from the writings of private persons … because we do not stand or fall with the judgment of each private divine, however illustrious (Volume 1 of Institutes of Elenctic Theology, p. 529).

Turretin is pointing out the problem with attacking the teachings of a Church based strictly upon what this or that individual says or teaches. The synodical determinations of a Church have a different status and authority than the determinations of any one individual member of that Church. It is precisely this point that Turretin is pressing. No single individual speaks definitively for what the Church believes and teaches. Rather, we who are Reformed believe that the definitive statement of a Church’s beliefs is found in her confessional declarations. And we believe that this is by God’s design. It is precisely in this capacity that a Church functions as the pillar and ground of the Truth in upholding and establishing the truth of Scripture through confessional standards.

The Reformed believe that the doctrinal determinations of a Church represented in her confessional standards, if they are true to the Scriptures, ‘are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.’ (WCF 31.2) There is a ‘power’ (i.e., authority) spoken of there that belongs to the Church corporately and is exercised through her Elders corporately in synod. That authority Continue reading


Tributes to John Calvin

Tributes to John Calvin

At Reformation Heritage Books: The essays in Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of His Quincentenary illuminate Calvin’s times, thought and legacy, and provide a celebratory tribute to one of the most influential people in history. This book commemorates the quincentenary of Calvin’s birth (July 10, 1509), and attests to the remarkable fact that a French religious leader from a tiny village is still remembered half a millennium later.

Twenty-three leading Calvin scholars exhibit a firm understanding of Calvin’s era, theology, and the heritage he bequeathed the church. Their articles cover Calvin’s theology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, as well as his doctrines of assurance, worship, and Scripture. They examine Calvin as a Frenchman, lawyer, and liturgist. Other articles explore Calvin’s impact on the arts, Calvinism in Asia, and the influential women in Calvin’s life.


Difficulties for a quasi-confessional Church

Those who opposed the so-called good faith subscription model that was officially adopted by the PCA General Assembly several years ago warned of this. A TE from Eastern Carolina Presbytery was denied a transfer to Mississippi Valley Presbytery. The Aquila Report provides the following details from the article Report of Actions at Mississippi Valley Presbytery (PCA) on May 4th, 2010.

The Credentials Committee then gave its report and brought before it two men. One for transfer from Eastern Carolina Presbytery and one for licensure (a minister in good standing from the SBC). Rev. Perry McCall (from the SBC) was examined and preached from Joshua 1:1-9. His licensure was approved. The man who was seeking transfer had a difficult exam. He took exception to WCF 4.1 on creation days. However, by his examination it showed he also held views holding to women deaconesses and women reading Scripture in Public Worship. The Presbytery saw these two were exceptions as well. Following this, the Presbytery voted whether or not to approve his transfer and he was denied despite his willingness to submit to the brethren on these issues.

At the close of the article is the following note.

Editor’s Note: The Aquila Report has requested comment from a large number of members of the Presbytery concerning denying transfer to a TE from another PCA Presbytery based on MVP’S not granting exceptions that are frequently granted in other Presbyteries and had previously been granted within Mississippi Valley Presbytery itself. We will print those comments in a few days, after we have had time to gather then.

The difficulty described here in relation to the transfer of credentials is merely a symptom of the larger problem — that the PCA has no objective standard for unity in doctrine and practice. The PCA’s de facto confessional standard is an unspecified set of ‘vitals of religion’ presumably found somewhere within the commemorative documents we call the Westminster Standards. According to the PCA’s ‘good faith subscription’ model, every court of original jurisdiction defines these vitals, or non-negotiable doctrines, as it sees fit.

While the constitution of a confessional Church is supposed to establish an objective standard of unity in doctrine and practise, the PCA’s model effectively removes that objective standard. As a result, the courts of the PCA will find it increasingly difficulty to function as a single denomination. This is to be expected precisely because the PCA has transformed itself into a loosely connected set of regional mini-denominations called presbyteries, each with its own version of the PCA’s unwritten constitution.


Calvin on prayer

A friend of mine posted this on facebook. I don’t know where in Calvin’s writings it’s found, but it is a beautiful summary of the biblical doctrine of prayer.

Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things. God himself, on the other hand, has purposed freely, and without being asked, to bestow blessings upon us; but he promises that he will grant them to our prayers.